Wedding Day, 11 p.m.
The staffer at the airline’s ticketing counter looked from the clock on the wall behind her to my face as she shrugged. “The door has been closed. The plane is preparing for departure. You’re too late.”
“But we have reservations,” Chad insisted.
Tears began to fill my eyes. The champagne high had worn off. My feet hurt. The after-wedding crash struck. I turned to the couple who had escorted us to the airport, the pair who had hoped to walk us to the gate and wave good-bye. (This was long before 9-1-1, when people frequently went to the gates and waited to watch their loved ones and friends actually go through the door or down the ramp and into the plane.)
“You arrived too late,” the employee said. “The plane is loaded and the door has been closed.” She punched a button on the panel in front of her. “They are pulling out to taxi to the runway right now.”
My breath escaped through my clenched teeth; a clump of something grew in my throat.
Chad turned away from the counter. “Looks like we’ll be driving after all.”
Soon the four of us were in the car, driving back to his house where we transferred our bags to the trunk of his green and white Oldsmobile Cutlass. Our friends stood in the yard under the street light and waved us away with forced smiles.
Why had he not packed his bag before and had it waiting? My own bag had been packed for DAYS. That would have shaved ten minutes off, and we could have made it onto the plane. Could have. Should have.
Neither of us had much to say for the next three hours as we navigated an almost empty I-35 South. I might have catnapped a little.
I had let go of my anger by the time the glowing lights of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport bloomed on the horizon. Miles and miles of empty country stretched in all directions, (again, 1977 – remember?) but the neon sign for our wedding-night hotel shone clearly in the dark sky. It was 2:30 a.m.
We tramped into the hotel together and up to the empty desk. Chad tapped the desk bell. A clerk emerged from the room behind the desk.
“We have reservations,” Chad said. He cleared his throat. I rubbed my forehead. My head pounded.
“Name?” The clerk asked. Then, “say again?” He shuffled papers. He opened a drawer to check a card file. He shook his head. “Looks like your room was given away. You are marked as a ‘no show.'”
“But the room was reserved for us. Paid for,” Chad growled.
“I don’t show any payment, only a reservation with no guarantee past midnight,” the clerk insisted. “And we are completely full tonight. No rooms available.” The clerk straightened and looked only at Chad. “I am also aware that the two other airport hotels are at capacity as well. Busy weekend.”
I closed off my hearing as Chad argued uselessly with the man. A buzzing sound filled my head. Minutes later, Chad turned away and fumed through the revolving front door. I followed a few steps behind.
We both slammed our car doors after sliding in. He started the engine and backed out of the parking lot.
I glanced around at the vast airport, where lights twinkled but little activity was under way. Down the street a few more signs glowed. One advertised Denny’s Restaurant.
“Well, I guess we can sleep in the car for a few hours. It’s either that or Denny’s.”
I have to tell you, I had never anticipated spending the early morning hours of my first day of married life in a red booth at a Denny’s Restaurant outside the DFW Airport.
(Watch for Part 3 on April 22)